We crossed the Channel from Dover to Calais by ferry, and began the drive south. Calamity struck when, driving through the night, we were hit by a drunk driver just outside Le Mans. None of us were hurt, but a nasty chunk was taken out of the OLD BLUE TRUCK’s front. We had been on the road for less than 6 hours!
It was late at night by the time we were towed into Le Mans, cold and raining. We were taken to a large garage where it was suggested that sufficient mechanical repairs be made for us to return to England, to complete the panel beating. Return to England? We had only left that morning and were planning to celebrate the new year in the South of Spain!
That first night we slept in the truck, in a garage on the side of the road. The next morning we discovered that we were actually right on the 24 Heures du Mans (car race) circuit and ‘our’ garage was part of a complex attached to Le Cafe du Tertre Rouge.
Over the following days we were adopted by the owner and his familly, and many of the local community who gathered in the evening to eat and drink and play endless games of table football. We were introduced (by those who REALLY knew) to the wines and cheeses of the Loire Valley and that wonderful pork rillette of the Sarthe region! On student budgets and in very rough accommodation, but living like kings. We were woken early by the mechanics, bathed in oil drum troughs, and then banished to the cafe for breakfast, while they worked on repairs to the truck. We played so much table football that the locals challenged us for the “championship du monde”.
Each morning, we would set off on the long walk to see the insurance people. One day (just like in the stories) we got picked up by a nice doctor with two charming daughters. Dr Drouin, Florence and Sylvie delivered us back to Le Tertre Rouge and, after discussions with the owners (and a couple of phone calls) took us to the very large Seminary in the old part of Le Mans. We spent the following nights in that seminary – and this could be a whole other story! The things we saw, late at night! It was a large, stark, very cold looking place, and even colder and starker were the little cell-like rooms the charitable priests gave us – but the price was right!
We breakfasted in a cafe near the seminary, where the lady wouldn’t serve us until David, Peter and John could order en Francaise. Evening meals were with Dr and Mrs Drouin and the girls.
Finally, repairs (as far as we took them!) were complete, our insurance payout arrived in the form of a ‘bundle of francs’ and we farewelled our new friends to head south. In search of the sun!